Wednesday 28th December

Oxfordshire village, Wham! yet empty inside (6)

A few days after Christmas in 1810, Thomas Jefferson Hogg had Univ almost to himself. He and Shelley (who was still partying at Field Place) exchanged daily letters but Hogg could not bear to sit shivering in his rooms waiting for his chum to return for Hilary Term. So Tom All-Alone equipped himself with strong shooting-shoes and gaiters, as well as copies of Virgil’s Georgics and Aeneid, and walked out into the icy wastes of South Oxfordshire on a solitary pilgrimage to the cathedrals of Winchester and Salisbury, then (like Tess) to Stonehenge itself. After several days combating hypothermia and truculent yokels, he trudged back to college again with enough anecdotes to fill up a self-indulgent chapter of his ill-fated Life of Shelley.

I too long to escape from my solitary abode and lose myself in the eerie calm of the wintry landscape. Different shrines tempt me. I could drive down to Sparsholt and walk the Ridgeway to Goring to pay my respects at the house where George Michael died alone. I might even walk another few miles further east to Friar Park, last home of another saintly George, humming ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ as I go. Georgics, indeed.

But the fog is so thick this morning that there has been a 20-car pile-up on the A40. I leave the Yaris slumbering under its frosty winter coat and embark on a more modest walking-tour. I head up the Thames towpath to Jericho where St Barnabas Church towers forbiddingly over terraced streets built for iron-workers and bookbinders. It is impossible to guess which bits of masonry a young Thomas Hardy would have worked on.

From there I cross a shimmering Port Meadow towards the Perch and head north to Godstow, then under the ring-road to Wytham, pausing for a light and lonely lunch at the White Hart. The frosty antennae of beeches and sycamore beckon me further but I do not know the way through the woods and I turn back towards Wolvercote and the metropolis beyond. I pass the bridge club south of Summertown and head for the Parks, hoping to check out the location of the Clones’ pipe-dream next July. But, like Sir Gawain on his post-Christmas trek or Aeneas as he avoids drowning in the whirlpool of Charybdis, I have only the haziest idea where to go.

That gig is the one thing I have to live for, I decide, the one reason for hoping that Solomon Sage had it wrong all along. I try again to think of what dying would be like, but draw a blank – it is so hard to contemplate nothingness in the midst of life.

I have no job, no home, no one to love. Yet, despite everything, I do not want to die. As I complete my uneventful round trip, I catch myself praying for time.


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